May 23, 2009

Madhumalai Hills

Satish, Shobha and Shefali had planned a weekend trip to Jungle Retreat at Madhumalai Hills and asked me to join them. I came up with some excuses but finally gave in and joined them. We started early, had breakfast near Channpatna, wnet past Mysore, stopped at Nanjangud Temple, went past Bandipur and reached the resort just after noon. We checked in, freshened up, had lunch and sat all afternoon in the bar chatting away. Around 5, we went around the resort... a pool made in natural settings, a dilapidated tree-house, cottages, kitchen garden... all this right at the base of the majestic Madhumalai range of hills. Evening we were back at the bar. I came out several times to look at the lovely stars scattered on the dark sky.

Later, I think just before dinner, we went out for a drive with a hope of seeing some wildlife. We saw some buffaloes and cows. Obviously we were near a village. As we entered the village, we could see two dogs barking at something... it was a wild boar! The dogs tried attacking the boar but the boar attached one the dogs with it's snout and the dog took off yelping it's guts out.

Next morning, I joined a group who were going out for a safari ride in two open top Gypsys. We went through the country side with big trees. An elderly British couple were looking out for birds. We entered a real wild looking coffee estate... basically it was badly maintained. The first thing we saw a group of monkeys perched up high on trees. They were kind of restless... screeching all the while. At first we thought it was because of our presence but out guides cum drivers sensed it was something else. The monkeys screeching became louder and louder... one of the guides told us that a big cat must be prowling close by. The drivers switched off the engines. The monkeys seemed to have calmed down and everything was silent and suddenly they took off full blast this time. We heard a roar.... GRRRRROOOOOOOOOOAAARRRR!!! The monkeys went crazy. Of course, we were scared too... sitting like ducks in open top jeeps. What a roar it was... the very first time I ever heard a roar in wild. The guides said it was one of the tigers which visited the water holes in the estate. We waited some more and then went exploring deeper into the woods. We could see a few interesting birds, some deer and a flying fox. The sun was up and getting warm and we headed back to the resort.

Later we went to check out two newly built tree-houses. The houses, including the steps were made of bamboo and coir ropes were high up on massive jamoon trees. They had a bedroom, a place for lunch with tables and benches, balconies and bathrooms too. As a kid I used to dream of tree-houses after learning about them from Phantom comics. One day I wish to build one on my own. That evening, I engaged a guide to take me up the hills and back.

We started when it was still dark. It was cold. We walked up the gentle slope through the bamboo forest. As we sent deeper, it got steeper. It was colder in here... we were blowing out mist as we breathed. Then after while we hit a trial created long back. In fact parts of the path was covered by stones... to make climbing easy during rainy season. We reached the top after an hour or so. The rocky spot where we sat gave s good view of the surroundings. Plains to our back and more hills ahead of us. Seriously speaking, the forest cover is being actively destroyed. I could see barren patches. The guide spotted a herd of elephants on the neighboring hills but I could not spot them. Then he spotted a bison, again I did not get it. He asked me if I could see a black rock. I said yes. He asked me to watch it. I was watching the rock when it appeared to move slowly. That was the bison! The guy was huge!! Them after a couple of minutes he disappeared into the forest. Rested, we decided to go on...

We were moving from smaller hill to the bigger hill and the ahead of us was a spot which was kind of scary. It was a blind spot in our path... cannot guess what was waiting for us after the bend. We heard leaves rustle from our left. The guide was alert and we saw a bear... some 200 feet away. The guide in a flash dug out a beedi and matches,lit the beedi and started smoking I furiously. I asked him why. I got the answer. The bear smelt the smoke and took off... away from us. Smart guy, knows how to survive in the jungle. The guide went in the direction of the bear and made sure it was gone. Back on our path, we went higher and deeper into the jungle...

The path was wilder and narrower. The grass was wet with dew and it was slippery at places. On and off we could see patches of paved surface. Suddenly it was misty again and we moved carefully. When the mist cleared, I saw a different variety of eucalyptus trees. The leaves had a very thick coat of silvery layer. I crushed a few leaves and applied it to my forehead. The smell was refreshing. I think it was 10 now and I was hungry but we still had to climb.

Tea plantations came into our view which indicated that now we were close to a to village or a town. My guide (now I recall his name – it was Chinappa) took me to one of the estates where one of his friends – Muthu- lived. Muthu took us to a spot from where we could see the resort. I called Satish from my Motorola but the reception was poor and I could not manage to tell Satish the spot we were standing. Anyway, I was starving and asked my guide that we get going. We said bye to Muthu and walked towards the town... I got cramps when I started walking on a tar road. Finally we reached the village and found a small eating place. It seems Ooty is abut 12km from this village. We had idlis and vade and everything else the place offered. I was full, we filled up the water bottles, and decided to head back. I told my guide to take a different route. I did not want to go the same way we came. He thought for a while and told me that he'll have to take Muthu's help to find the route. I told to do anything.

We went back, found Muthu and from here, he was my guide's guide. The path we took was crazy. It was on a steep slope, just enough for one person to walk. One wrong step, that's it, one could go down rolling the grassy slope end up in the valley down below. The damn terrain never seemed to end and did put a wrong step and plain lucky to be sitting and typing this post. Finally, th path ended as we moved to another hill.

The path on this hill was more comfortable but the forest was thick. About 30 minutes trek, we came to a opening in the forest. It was flat patch high up on the slope of the hill. The guide told me this is where we saw the bison earlier that morning. I saw a water hole with bison hoof-prints close by. The spot had a kind of feel. It felt great to be standing high up in the jungle. I spotted a mountain-berry tree with lots of berries weighing down branches. The guides broke of ends of a couple of branches.. that's for me. We continued with our trek, we walked to the edge of the plain open patch, we got a narrow path going down into the forest. As we went down, on to our left we saw a small natural cave. According to a local story, it's said that Saint Agatsya has meditated here ages ago. We sat here for a while. The guides picked out the berries from the branches. From here Muthu would go back and my guide would have to find the way back. It seems that this is the first time he's come in this route... a route usually the forest guards take. We said bye to Muthu.

The path was unfriendly, thorny bushes, over-grown grass, rocks in the path and in places we could even see th ground. We ran out of water. The going got tough. I must've stepped over a stone, tripped and fell. If not for my high-ankled Reebok I would've twisted my ankle badly. From then I had a slight limp. The forest got thicker and wilder... it was scary. No telling from where a bear can come or a snake could slither out. Finally, by 3 PM, we got a glimpse of the resort through a gap in the trees and soon we could see the fencing. Made it back!

I was tired and hungry but a bath was my immediate need. I was the last of lats to have lunch that day. That evening, I hit the sack early real.

The next morning, I went for a walk to a nearby hill with a little temple on the top. I spent some time on the top looking down at the village below. On the way back, I was at the base of the hill, I realized that my cottage key was on the hill. I trekked up again.


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